I was a rascal when I was little. I used to slip out the door at nine o’clock at night. My parents would go and see if I was in the bed and I was down the street on my little tricycle.
Before Holland was occupied we lived over a store that my father and uncle worked in. Next to the store was a school and just before things started getting really bad the Germans moved into that school. One day my mom and dad just couldn’t find me again and they looked next to their store. The Germans were all marching and I was right behind them, behind the Germans, marching. I had a pot on my head like their helmets and I had a broom over my shoulder like their rifle, marching along just like they were marching. My parents went over and said, “Come on over here.” You know they got scared. That’s the kind of kid I was—they were marching, I was marching, just not understanding what trouble I was going to get into.
Bussum was a small—we call it a dorp, a village. Everybody kind of knew each other, everybody was pretty friendly. I used to go bicycle riding. I as very close to my aunts and uncles. I had one aunt who used to live right next door to us, also over the store, so the only way that we could get over to them was from the front door down stairs or we could walk on the balcony to each other’s house. This aunt was just married, guess when I was three years old. Her name was Katherine and my uncle’s name was Joseph.
My father and my grandfather and my uncle, they had a store where they sold working clothes like overalls, working materials, and needles and thread, and workshirts. It was called Degunst. We had one synagogue. It was orthodox. We celebrated most of the Jewish holidays. On Friday night we were all together; you weren’t supposed to go out. We played games and we talked and told jokes.
I’m Jewish and on the weekends on Friday night I went to my grandmama’s house and grandaddy’s house. I was a very happy, well-liked child. I loved to talk to people and I talked a lot. . . . I also remember very well that if I stayed over on Friday night on Saturday morning when I woke up I could come to their bedroom. And I could lay in the middle because they had a double bed. Each one—they were very childish—on their sides where they had their nightstands I remember they would have a little plate, and there was a cookie on there and a bonbon and a candy. It was like a game between them—whose little plate I was going first to eat. “Oh look! She came to me first,” my grandmother said. All that is so clear, like it was yesterday.
On my father’s side I remember my grandmother was like a real lady. Every Friday morning she had her hair appointment. I remember her having white hair—my oma Dientja who lives in Bussum. They were very well liked people, very respectable people—not very rich. They lived also over the store where later we lived. On my father’s side everybody lived in Bussum. So you see them everyday, you could just walk over there. But I did sleep over there many a times. The bedrooms were on the third story. The first story was the stores, the second story was the living room and the kitchen and another little bedroom. On the third floor was like the guest room. That’s where my sister and I used to sleep once and awhile.
I remember my father as a very hardworking person. They were very decent people, very respectful. We were never to say anything bad or use bad language. I think I had—before the war—a very loving way of growing up the first few years. Then it was getting very hard. By the time I was three and a half years old we had the Germans move in all around us.
I do remember one thing. I had a white coat, naturally my grandfather gave me that. It was made out of wool. It was a white little girl’s coat with a hood on it. And then you had this thing where you put your hands in. It was the same material and we call it a “mof” [pl. moffen]. But you keep your hands warm because Holland is cold in the winter.
I remember one time when there was already a lot of Germans in Amsterdam, my mom took me shopping in the big city or to see relatives. We went in a trolley. A slang word for German that the Germans had then and still people use that word—they call the Germans “Moffen.” It’s the same word like the “mof” like we put our hands in to warm. So my mother knowing me, me as a child with a big mouth, got scared to death when she saw a few Germans step in the trolley car. I remember her jerking me away just as I was about to say, “Look, a ‘mof.’ Look mom, a ‘mof.’ I have a ‘mof’ on my hands.” That was the same word. I remember the frightening, scary thing on my mom’s face and she jerked me away and we got out the streetcar. It’s like things like that you remember too when you see your mother very worried, very scared. We went in hiding. My mom and dad had the store with my uncle and all of a sudden I remember we were on the street. They just came over and took over the store and we were on the street.
I do remember that my mom was crying and got very upset, and I saw her get very depressed. I didn’t know why. As a child I just coudn’t understand that. My father was trying to smile and try to be the big guy. I remember them saying goodbye. The next thing I knew I was in a children’s home. I went from Amsterdam to this children’s home in Bussum. I wasn’t very long there either because the owners of this children’s home they took me on the bicycle and took me away. Later I find out why they had to do that—because I was telling all the kids, “I can’t wait till I’m six years old because I can wear my star then, my yellow star of David with ‘Jew’ on it”— in Dutch “Jood.” So they had to get me away. I couldn’t stay there. I was telling all the kids I was Jewish.
I went to another place and that was Laren, North Holland. The lady who took care of me was like a nun. It was kind of a Catholic religion but not quite, it was very strict. From one minute to the next I was told that my parents died. As a child four years old I had so many mixed up things. There was something true and it wasn’t true. In my little mind, how could my parents be dead? How in the world? Last week I still saw them. Where are they? I was told they were in heaven with Jesus. Because right away I had to believe in Jesus. I was taught that right away: I wasn’t a Jew, I was a Catholic and “we” believe in Jesus. That was my idol for the longest time, my Jesus. It was a very Catholic person who took care of me, kind of like a nun.
Unfortunately the nun, or the sister, or my stepmother, whatever, was not a very nice person. I don’t ever remember her smiling or saying anything kind to me. It was a very strict, awful face that I remember. I got a lot of beatings because I was crying, because there was no food. I was to not to get out of the closet. She beat me up a lot, very, very often for things that I really couldn’t help. So, very little times I got out that closet. I was very scared.
The only thing that I had was my doll. And my doll’s name was Ann, in Dutch Anneke Pop—pop is doll. My Anneke Pop was my everything. I talked to her, I cried with her, I joked with her—we were buddies. It was the only person who loved me and I loved besides my Jesus because I did love my Jesus then. I was taught that right away from early in the morning to late at night. The few times that I got out the closet I tried to go to a window and look outside and if I saw a cloud I saw my mom and my dad in the cloud, because they were there up in the cloud with Jesus. When times we very unsafe. I was stuffed in the closet with my doll—that was my good part.
A lot of my family was gassed in the gas chambers in the concentration camps. So naturally a lot of sadness, a lot of pictures around. My grandfather was killed. My mom and dad survived. I survived—not very easy times. It’s not easy as a five year old to survive on your own. All of a sudden you’re like—it’s like Moses. You know he was alone. He was lucky maybe to be taken care of. Maybe in a way, yeah, I was lucky. I’m still here. That’s something that after the war—and still I have to hear this—that people say, “You were so lucky. You made it. Aren’t you lucky you made it?” That was the most unreasonable to say right after the war to me. I didn’t feel I was so lucky. I had this guilt thing. How come my opa, my grandfather isn’t here. I wish I was with my opa, wherever he is. I didn’t think I was so lucky. The people I really loved they weren’t around me. My uncle, my sixteen-year-old uncle Abraham who I played with, who told me stories—where was he? I’m not lucky to be here as a eight year old because I want to be with my grandfather and my uncle and they’re not here no more.
The last deportation was in September, l942, and since my father was a good friend of Dr. Weissman, the president of the Judenrat, he went to him. We knew it was the last deportation, so he put his name down. They allowed 150 people to stay in the ghetto. My father was a very good friend, so we were allowed to stay in the ghetto. They deported the whole Jewish population—that, I remember, was on a Thursday.
Friday the SS came in and they wanted to have a countdown. Unfortunately, Weissman had so many friends, he put down about 250. They start counting, and they see instead of 150 you got 250. The SS Obersturmführer was angry. He was screaming in German and he gave orders to pick 100 people at random, pull them out. They took out my mother, and they moved a hundred people about 150 yards away. You could hear screaming, hollering. They lined them up against the wall and we had to watch them execute them all. They mowed them down just like that. We all heard it. My mother was shot down. That was September 3, l942.
Then they came and they picked twenty boys, young boys. We had to carry the bodies to a certain place near the ghetto, and they gave us orders to stack them up, get wood. We stacked them up about ten bodies, then put a piece of wood on the top, and then another ten bodies. They gave us gasoline to pour over them and we had to burn the bodies. While the SS looked away—they were far away—I pulled out my mother’s corpse. I figured I would pull her out and late at night I might bury her. An SS man noticed this and came up to me with a whip and hit me right on the head. “What are you doing?” I didn’t answer, and he just said, “Put it back in with all the corpses.”
In about two hours they were burnt and then [the SS] left. By then everything was only ashes left. I remember I had a metal can. I put some of the ashes in the metal can and I buried it not far from there, about two feet deep. It was in the evening and I remember I said to myself, if I survive I may give the burial. Ten years ago I went with my family, I took my son and my daughter and my wife. We went there and we spent about three or four hours at that place, but everything had changed so much. I remember I had a marker. There was a fence there, a wire fence. The fence is gone, overgrown with weeds, and I spent hours searching and I couldn’t find it.
On January 19, 1945, when the allies came closer to liberate Auschwitz, they got everybody out from the camp. They wanted to take us deeper inside Germany so they could leave no trace of the survivors. This night in January 1945—we call it the Death March—they marched us all night long over to Bogamin (that’s on the border of Poland and Czechoslovakia, not far from Glawica) and they put us in a soccer stadium. They kept us overnight there. Of course, on the Death March half of them didn’t make it. Anybody who couldn’t keep up with the march, they put a bullet in his head.
Later they put us on open cattle trains. It was winter. I said to myself, “Under circumstances of what I can see, on the open cattle train, I’m never going to make it. Without food, without water, packed in.” So I told myself that if the train start to roll, start moving, and it’s going to get nighttime, I’m going to jump the train. I figure if they catch me they’re going to shoot me, so I wouldn’t have to suffer. And if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll survive—because on each side you had an SS guarding the train. When it got dark for a couple of hours I escaped. I think a lot of fellows jumped nearby but I never see them. When I jumped they stopped the train and was looking all over. I was deep down in the snow about eight hours. I don’t know how I survived in the cold. Finally the train started going again.
After the war we went back to Kaluszyn because we were trying to get our flour mill back, which the Germans took. That was the family business. My parents were killed in Kaluszyn, my grandmother, my aunts, my uncles—everybody. The home was torn apart but the mill was operating. We were trying to get it back. But the government had already come and said, No, you can t get it back because it s too big. We got to nationalize it.
So we said, Let’s go into the post office and see, maybe, maybe somebody wrote a letter. The postman who knew us from before the war said there was a letter from the United States. My mother had a sister who went to Palestine in 1936. She knew the address of the Zuckers in Charleston, so she wrote to them and they wrote right to us. We didn’t even know them—they left Poland before I was even born. We made contact and in a little while they said if you want to come to the United States we could help you.
It took a long time to get a visa to come to the United States. From ’45 to ’49 we corresponded with them and they send us an affadavit, that we were not going to be a burden to the government. We went through the process but it took a long time until what they called the DP [Displaced Persons] law passed. So we wrote the Zuckers and we came to New York.
We came on Thanksgiving Day in 1949. We had our first Thanksgiving dinner on the boat. Late in the evening on Wednesday we came to New York. The seas were so rough—twelve days on the boat—it was November in the fall. I’ll never forget. I was very seasick and pregnant and with a small child and my husband. After so many days, sea and sky, sea and sky, we saw the panorama of New York. But it was too late to unload us. Thursday was Thanksgiving and they couldn’t unload us—it was a holiday. So they gave us the first dinner, Thanksgiving dinner, on the boat. The dinner was so delicious but we didn’t know why—we thought because they’re welcoming us to New York. We didn’t know it was Thanksgiving. Then on Friday they unloaded us and Saturday we were in Charleston.